The Gateway to the Colombian Amazon: Putumayo

Putumayo is one of the most beautiful and promising post-conflict scenarios to enjoy nature tourism.  has a perfect harmony between the rainforest and the Andes mountain range. In the south of the department is the city of Villagarzon where rivers begin to take the shape of a snake along with flat green landscapes; in the west of the capital, Mocoa, is the Sibundoy Valley.

Putumayo has an incredibly high biodiversity, it offers you the opportunity to meet species such as parrots, toucans, monkeys, tapirs, capivaras, tigers, panthers, spectacled bear and a great variety of birds. This is because its territory occupies a Andean – Amazon Piedmont, and numerous rivers.

Mocoa

Mocoa is Putumayo’s Capital City. It is a city that offers a combination of jungle walks, waterfalls, ecotourism, adventure sports, ancestral wellness, bird watching and Amazonian fauna.

What to visit staying in Mocoa?

Fin del Mundo Waterfall

It is one of the main tourist attractions in Mocoa. The waterfall is located in the Dantayaco stream and has a drop height of 70 meters forming two beautiful natural pools.

To get there you must hike up the mountain for 1.5 – hours, and when you are at this point apart from taking beautiful pictures you can do water activities such as canyoning.

Mandiyaco Cañon

Located at km 25 of the road that leads from Mocoa to Pitalito very close to the Caqueta river. This natural wonder is a rock formation of volcanic origin, called “Mandiyaco” in the Inga language.

The rock formations that can be observed are possible to see different faces like the lion, the tiger’s claws, the nose of the bear, among other figures, in this wonderful place full of positive energy where you can take a boat ride.

Suruma Park

This reserve and preservation center of the Amazonian flora and fauna is located 8.3 km from Mocoa, has an area of 131.6 hectares of which 90% is forest.

There you will be able to take tours to learn more about the flora and fauna found in the Amazon as well as gain knowledge of the species that are endangered and those that are already in recovery.

Paway Butterfly Farm

If you want to learn about the evolutionary process of butterflies, this place is ideal for you. It is located 7.7 km from Mocoa; there you will be surrounded by nature and many species of butterflies.

In addition the butterfly farm offers you the opportunity to stay in a cabin built in a Ceiba “sacred tree”, you can spend a night surrounded by nature and wake up with the original sounds of the Amazon rainforest.

Hornoyaco Waterfall

To get to this beautiful waterfall of 55 m of fall you must make a 2 hour walk from the center of Mocoa. It is known because its inhabitants say that the guardian of this waterfall is the rainbow, since most of the time when the rainbow appears you can see how it surrounds the waterfall. It is a place of tranquility and peace where you can spend a wonderful afternoon.

Licamancha Caves

In Putumayo it is also possible to do caving activities, in the limits between the departments of Putumayo and Cauca on the banks of the Caqueta River is the access point to the caverns; it is advisable not to visit in rainy seasons due to the risks that can be run by the increase of the current of the river.

During the one hour tour it is possible to appreciate paleontological vestiges of more than millions of years old, besides walking through internal halls inside the cavern of 15 meters high.

At the moment it is an area that is in constant investigation for the discovery of more caverns or internal tours inside the already known ones.

El Salto del Indio

In the Kuriyaku ravine (in the indigenous language of the sector means “golden water”) just 19 km from Mocoa it is possible to find this natural wonder. It is formed by 2 waterfalls where a natural pool of emerald green water is generated.

Thanks to the fact that the inhabitants of the cabildo Tigre Playa offer the service of canoe to cross the river, the hiking time was reduced from 1 hour to 20 minutes, so now you will have more time to enjoy this natural wonder.

Donde se Oculta el Sol waterfalls (where the sun hides)

Located 22 km from Mocoa, when you arrive at the indicated point you will hike 2 km to reach the waterfalls that are formed in the Sardinas Creek; the waterfall “Mohano” (in indigenous language “Jaguar Man”) has 18 m of fall and the waterfall “Wakana” (in indigenous language “Llanto de la Mona”) has 17 m of fall.

Between the two waterfalls it is necessary to cross a stone bridge and a stone tunnel that connects the two waterfalls.

There you will be able to go bird watching, there is a camping area or if you prefer rural lodging.

How to arrive to Mocoa?

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Villa Garzón Airport (VGZ) at Mocoa city.

Where to stay in Mocoa?

In Mocoa you will find a great diversity of accommodation options depending on your budget and personal taste. Our recommendations as follows:

  • Posada Turistica Dantayaco

Orito

It is located in the Amazonian foothills, there you will be able to meet and have contact with the Kofan indigenous community, you can acquire knowledge of the ancestral wisdom of the hand of them, also you will be able to know the Pijili River, noted for its emerald green waters.

What to visit in Orito?

Isla Escondida Nature Reserve

There are about 25 kms of walking trails in and around the reserve. Apart from the trails there are many tracks for walking and exploring!

The reserve has more than 350 bird species, with many range-restricted species. Among the main targets are the  Nocturnal Curassow (Nothocrax urumutum), Salvin’s Curassow, Chestnut-headed Crake, Grey-winged Trumpeter, Napo Screech-owl, Buff-tailed Sicklebill, Pavonine Quetzal, Collared Puffbird, Spot-winged and Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet, Fulvous Antshrike, Hairy-crested Antbird, Spectacled Bristle-tyrant, Foothill Elaenia, Black-&-white and Golden-winged Tody-flycatcher, Grey-tailed Piha, Fiery-throated Fruiteater, Foothill Schiffornis, Musician Wren and Fulvous Shrike-Tanager.

There are registers of  jaguar, margay, trumpeters, deer, opossums, nocturnal curassows, kinkajous (Potus flavus), olingos (Bassaricyon alleni), pacas (Cuniculus paca), night monkeys (Aotus), band-bellied Owls (Pulsatrix melanota), etc.

Maloka Oso Kofan

It is a meeting center of the Kofan indigenous community, the name of this Maloka is due to the fact that the Taita Oso Kofan is located there; also if you visit the department in January you can have the opportunity to participate in the annual camp where the indigenous community offers visitors the Amazonian ancestral knowledge along with the Yage ceremony supervised by members of the indigenous community.

Ma&Ju Ecotourism Center

In Ma&Ju you will learn about the agricultural processes of planting and harvesting of pepper and cocoa that takes place in the department. You can also do activities such as Canopy and walk on Tibetan bridges over the jungle.

If you wish to spend the night in this center there is a camping area or private cabins in the middle of the jungle.

Corunta Ecotourism Center

In the center you will be able to enjoy a private waterfall, La Silvania, you can also go horseback riding in the middle of the jungle, enjoy a natural pool and take tours in rural areas and have contact with the farmers of the sector.

Pijili Stone

It is a huge stone located in the flow of the Pijili River, is one of the most visited resorts for the majesty of the stone along with the tranquility and beautiful scenery offered by this river.

How to get to Orito?

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Villa Garzón Airport (VGZ) at Mocoa city.

Once at in Mocoa you take an approximately 3-hours ride (118 Km) to Orito.

Puerto Asis

It is the municipality with the largest population of the department, besides being known as the commercial capital of Putumayo due to the development of commercial activities of great importance for the economic development of the department.

Moreover, Puerto Asis was the national center in the development of the Colombian-Peruvian war or known as “the conflict of Leticia” between 1932-1933.

What to visit in Puerto Isis?

La Esmeralda Pier

This important dock is the place where all the boats connect with Puerto Leguizamo, being one of the most important fluvial connection points of the department. You can also take a tour through the Putumayo River where you will be able to appreciate the immensity and enjoy the scenery during the tour.

Playa Rica Village

During your journey through the Putumayo River you can enter this magical trail where you can do bird watching, appreciate various species of the jungle in this part of the country and learn about Amazonian fruits.

How to get to Puerto Asis?

Bogota – Mocoa – Puerto Asis

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Villa Garzón Airport (VGZ) at Mocoa city. Once at in Mocoa you take an approximately 2-hours ride (87 Km) to Puerto Asís.

Bogotá- Puerto Asís

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Tres de Mayo Airport (PUU) at Puerto Asís city. Keep in mind that the airlines that fly to Puerto Asis are: EasyFly (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and Satena (Sunday through Friday).

Puerto Leguizamo

It is called the exotic garden of the universe, as it is surrounded by the Amazon jungle, the Putumayo River and has borders with Ecuador and Peru. Formerly known as Caucayá, since it was the name it received when it was founded in 1920 and in 1950 it received its current name.

What to visit in Puerto Leguizamo?

El Guardian de la Selva (The Guardian of the Forest)

A magical ceiba tree 60 meters high and 40 centimeters in diameter. The inhabitants of the sector consider it to be the grandfather tree, being the sacred tree that is full of positive energy and is raising requests to heaven.

Caucayá River

It is located at the entrance to the Amazon, from here you will be able to observe the pink dolphin, river otters, different species of birds and Amazonian monkeys.

Laguna Azul

It is a body of water located in the deepest point of Puerto Leguizamo, it is said that its waters are healing, also rituals of cleansing and purification of the body and spirit are performed there.

La Argelia Fish Farming Station

In this station you will meet and feed the Amazonian fish Pirarocu, one of the largest freshwater fish and can measure up to 3 meters, this experience is possible with the support of the inhabitants of the sector.

How to get to Puerto Leguizamo?

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Caucayá Airport (LQM) at Puerto Leguizamo city.

Keep in mind that the only airline that operates to this airport is Satena on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Villagarzon

It is part of the Amazonian Piedemonte region, surrounded by the rivers San Juan, Conejo, San Vicente and Guineo, is 15 minutes from Mocoa; it is also known as the heart of Putumayo for being one of the most diverse areas of the department.

What to visit in Villagarzon?

El Escondite Natural Reserve

It is a Private Natural Reserve, which has a protected area of approximately 124 hectares, of which 70% is in natural regeneration or in a state of conservation located in the village of La Joya. Here you can go bird watching, as it has a record of 299 species of birds, you can also observe frogs and insects and primates.

Kayaking on the Guineo River

You can do this activity surrounded by a landscape of Amazon jungle and pure waters that invite us to have fun and connect with mother earth.

Rio Vides Archaeological Park

In the park you can observe stones with petroglyphs that show motifs of stars, plants and animals and other classified carved by indigenous ancestors.

How to get to Villagarzon?

Bogota – Mocoa – Villagarzon

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Villa Garzón Airport (VGZ) at Mocoa city. Once at in Mocoa you take an approximately 30 – minutes ride (17 Km) to Villagarzón.

Where to stay in Villagarzon?

In Villagarzón you will find a great diversity of accommodation options depending on your budget and personal taste. Our recommendations as follows:

  • El Escondite.

Sibundoy Valley

It is one of the cultural epicenters of Putumayo, with the presence of the indigenous cultures Kamentsá (men from here) and Ingas (close), unique in the world.

The inhabitants of the sector say that the missionaries arrived there during the colonial period, leaving numerous educational centers of great importance for the region.

What to visit in Sibundoy Valley?

The Interculturality Park

Known as the meeting point for the inhabitants of the municipality, it is adorned with eight sculptures made of wood by the indigenous communities, being an ideal place to spend the afternoon and visit the headquarters of the Municipal Administration.

Ambiaku Tourist Center / Colón Hot Springs Center

Termas Colón is a place where you can visit during the day or at night; you can experience shock therapies between hot and cold water, you can also have an outdoor mud therapy.

Ayen Botanical Garden

The place is ideal to learn about medicinal plants; you can also participate in harmonization or cleansing activities through the taita Juan, you can also participate in a yage ceremony with a previous reservation.

Villa Beatriz Viewpoint

From this wonderful viewpoint you will be able to watch birds and hummingbirds, besides having a panoramic view of the immense and magical valley of Sibundoy.

How to get to Sibundoy?

Bogota – Mocoa – Sibundoy

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Villa Garzón Airport (VGZ) at Mocoa city.

Once at in Mocoa you take an approximately 3,5-hours ride (81 Km) to Sibunday.

If you want to know more about Colombia, or wants to book your trip, please contact us.

References
About the author

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.

Best 3 Sunflower Fields That You Can Actually Visit in Colombia

The Sunflower (Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower) is worldwide known for its beauty and Vincent van Gogh paintings. The blooming of this beautiful flowers everywhere attracts many people to the so-called sunflower tourism.

Although they are treated as weeds, they fulfill an important function: their ability to grow in all types of environments and their resistance to drought allows them to invade degraded sites, where they detain the soil. Also, because they produce a lot of nectar, they attract numerous pollinators, such as bees. 

Origin of Sunflowers

Indigenous domestication

Sunflowers were domesticated by Mesoamerican Indian tribes, and are traditionally associated with pre-Columbian Mexican cultures. They were cultivated more for their usefulness than for their beauty.

However, the sunflower was used as a symbol representing the sun deity, primarily by the Aztecs and Otomies in Mexico and the Incas in Peru.

In 1532, Francisco Pizarro entered Peru, where he found a gigantic sunflower that the indigenous people of the Inca empire worshipped as a sacred image of the sun god. Then, gold figures of this flower, as well as seeds, were taken to Europe at the beginning of the 16th century.

Crops and Sunflower Tourism

Nowadays, their cultivation for oil extraction has been widespread in Spain since about 1980, thanks to subsidies from the European Economic Community. The same happens in the United Stated.

However, this is not the only appeal of sunflowers; the beauty of their fields attracts millions of tourists around the world.

Today there are sunflower fields on every continent, but the sunflower fields in Spain and Italy are the most famous for their unparalleled beauty.

The most beautiful sunflower fields in Spain are those found in the regions of La Bureba in Burgos, Cardejón in Soria, Carmona in Seville and Antequera in Malaga.

On the other hand, the most famous sunflower field in Italy is in the Tuscany region.

Sunflower Movement

Every day, sunflowers move towards the sun, following it on its east-west route. At night they move in the opposite direction, as if waiting for the sun to rise the next morning.

But one day they stop doing so, since when they reach maturity they stop their dance, do not turn again and remain oriented indefinitely towards the east until they die.

This movement, called heliotropism, is regulated by the circadian rhythm of the plants, and favors their growth.

And the truth is, it is not the flower that turns, it is the uneven growth of its stems that causes the turning. And when they stop growing, they stop turning.

That they stop is not entirely sad, since when they reach maturity, the plant is ready to be pollinated. The flowers release additional heat, which makes them more attractive to pollinating insects.

Find out more in the Science Report Circadian regulation of sunflower heliotropism, floral orientation, and pollinator visits: Sun-tracking when young, east-facing when mature, warmer sunflowers attract more pollinators.

Sunflower Tourism in Colombia

Research on sunflower cultivation in Colombia has been carried out since the late 1950s. But it was not until 1985 that the first sunflower field was planted for commercial production. The first crops were planted in Valle del Cauca, Tolima and Cesar.

In general, sunflower grows well in Colombia, from sea level to 2600 meter above sea level, so much so that today there are crops in Bogota. However, it was not until 2020 that some fields began to be used for tourism.

Today, there are several destinations where you can visit sunflower fields in Colombia, bu today I am goiong to talk about the most suitable for visit: San Martin, in the department of Meta, in the eastern plains of Colombia, Montes de Maria in the department of Bolivar, in the Colombian Caribbean region, and Valledupar in the department of Cesar, also part of the Caribbean region.

Sunflower Tourism in San Martin, Meta

Sunflower Tourism in San Martin de Los Llanos, Meta, Colombia CC @campodegirasolessm

The municipality of San Martin de los Llanos is located one hour from Villavicencio, capital of Meta. The annual sowing of sunflowers in a private plot of land in San Martín de los Llanos is the place that delights the visitor’s eyes with a minefield of this plant.

For more than five years, between the months of October and November, the sunflower crop blooms, and every year tourists are treated to the experience of walking among a crop of large and impressive sunflowers.

The tour starts at 10:00 in the morning or at 3:00 in the afternoon, from the municipality of San Martin with the indications of the authorized guides.

To get there you have to cross a 3-kilometer dirt road from San Martin; since it is private land, it is not permitted to indicate the exact location of the place.

Sunflower Tourism in Montes de María (or Serranía de San Jacinto), Bolívar

Sunflowers in San Jacinto, Bolivar, Colombia. Pic. by @yulart__

Between the departments of Bolívar and Sucre, in the Colombian Caribbean, is located the sub-region of Montes de María, a vast territory of agricultural and livestock tradition whose geographical location consolidated it as a corridor that connects a large part of the country with the Caribbean region and some of its main ports.

The Montes de María (also known as Serranía de San Jacinto) length does not exceed 110 km and its altitudes are less than 1,200 meters above sea level.

Montes de María, a Post-conflict Destination

The Montes de María area suffered from conflict for years, being a zone of FARC-EP guerrilla activity and paramilitary groups including the AUC. A particularly difficult period was in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

For years, this territory was forgotten, but now it is reappearing to conquer Colombians and foreigners with its beauty. In addition to the handicrafts, bagpipes and natural landscapes, there is a sunflower field, which has become another tourist attraction.

Tourism, entrepreneurship and sustainability

In the Sibar farm there is fish farming, chicken breeding and now, beekeeping that began to be generated thanks to the planting of these sunflowers.

It is an eco-efficient farm, where nothing is thrown away. The chicken feces (chicken manure) are used as fertilizer for the sunflowers. The flour from the sunflowers is fed to fish and chickens.

Bee Keeping Crops: The company AgroFrance sold the sunflower seeds to the farm owners

Sibar Farm and its Sunflower Fields

The idea arose as a result of the pandemic. Originally, it was a soy-based poultry feed manufacturing company. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, they came up with the idea of using sunflower meal as raw material for concentrate plants for cattle, sheep, swine, fish and poultry feed.

The company AgroFrance sold the sunflower seeds to the farm owners, and gave them technical assistance for planting, which is how the three-hectare sunflower field was born.

This sunflower variety produces grains with high protein, vitamin and fiber content, which have different uses for human consumption. These characteristics make this field even more special for tourists.

The field is located on the Sibar farm, on the outskirts of the municipality of San Jacinto, and very close to the Troncal de Occidente highway in the Montes de María.

Entering to contemplate the 180 thousand sunflowers has no cost. The only recommendation of the owner Alfredo Villadiego is that the visit is made with all the biosecurity protocols and without making noise because they can scare the bees!

Sunflower Tourism in Valledupar, Cesar

Sunflower Fields in Valledupar, Cesar, Colombia CC Publimetro.co

The cultivation of sunflower in the department of Cesar arose thanks to the union of several farmers. As in Bolivar, AgroFrance International distributed the seed to the local agricultural farmers.

The crops are located on the road that leads to the village of El Jabo, five minutes from Valledupar, at Finca La Esmeralda, and there are other fields distributed in the village of Los Venados, and in the municipality of Urumita in La Guajira.

Sunflower as an Alternative Crop

Sunflower cultivation in Cesar has become a planting alternative due to the scarce markets for rice, corn, cotton, sorghum, and other products, and it is a plant that does not require abundant water. Farmers in the area hope to harvest the grain to take it to agribusiness as oil or flour.

Bee sanctuary, therapeutic and tourist attractiveness

The harmonious and constant buzzing of bees accompanies this yellow feast, making it a sanctuary for bees. Thousands of bees arrive in swarms from the mountains to give life to the crops and help the pollination of this plant.

Some countries such as Germany, Austria, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, France and Greece must implant bee hives, artificially, due to the scarcity of this insect in these countries.

One of the owners of the crops has witnessed how hundreds of people come to appreciate these flowers, and for the landscape impact of 200 thousand sunflower plants framed under the silhouette of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which for some resembles Swiss landscapes.

The fields have even been visited by several people with health problems to enjoy the beauty of the crop. In this way, they are contributing to the community.

Important Precautions When Visiting a Sunflower Field

  • You should wear appropriate footwear for the tour and the mud.
  • Avoid wearing strong perfumes before visiting, as they attract bees.
  • In addition, it is recommended not to run inside the field and it is forbidden to cut the sunflowers.

Remember, these places are especially for those who wish to enjoy nature.

If you want to know more about nature and agro-tourism destinations in Colombia do not hesitate in contact us or visit our Plan your trip page.

References
About the authors

Sara Colmenares

The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism-environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

How Your Visit to Sierra de la Macarena in Colombia Helps for its Conservation?

La Macarena is a municipality located in the department of Meta, Colombia, with natural reserves such as the Sierra de la Macarena Natural National Park which has become internationally known for the seven colors river, Caño Cristales.

The sierra also has petroglyphs of ancient cultures in the Angosturas I and II sectors, in the Guayabero River. There are also enormous waterfalls, such as the Caño Canoas Waterfall, the Yarumales Waterfall, the Mico Waterfall, Soplaculos among others, which are difficult to reach due to the steep terrain.

This region of Colombia has been hard hit by the armed conflict, the planting of illicit crops, extensive cattle ranching and large-scale deforestation. Even after the signing of the peace agreement, it is a territory that continues to undergo a slow process of re-organization of the territory and the role of the people who inhabit it.

Ecotourism and community-based tourism is one of the lines that the local community is developing, taking advantage of the impressive natural wealth of the territory. Plans include the creation of ecological trails where visitors can also participate in the restoration process by planting a tree.

They also want to promote other destinations that activate tourist visits at times other than Caño Cristales, and thus have an income derived from tourism activity throughout the year.

Sierra de la Macarena is a Territory of Great Value for Humanity

The Sierra de La Macarena National Natural Park is located in the department of Meta, in a strategic location where the Andes, the Orinoco Savannah, the Guyanese Shield and the Amazonian plain converge, giving it a hyper mega biodiversity character, a true biological heritage for humanity.

The protected area also connects with the Tinigua and Picachos National Parks.

Sierra de la Macarena

The Sierra de la Macarena is an isolated mountain range that due to its nature, location and type of soil is home to endemic species of flora and fauna, that is to say that only exist in that place. An example of these is the aquatic plant Macarenia clavijera, which gives the reddish, pink and greenish colors to Caño Cristales, the region’s tourist destination par excellence.

Eighty-three percent of the Macarena mountain range is made up of humid forest (tropical humid zone) with an area of 5030 km², in addition to the herbaceous vegetation of the Amazon plain. La Macarena is considered worldwide as one of the most important wildlife refuges on the planet.

Thus, this natural treasure has extraordinary landscapes that are world icons such as the above mentioned Caño Cristales, as well as unique species such as the cumin tree (Aniba perutilis), the jaguar (Panthera onca) and the tapir (Tapirus bairdii).

Sierra de la Macarena National Park, Colombia Picture by Parque Nacionales

Effects of the Armed Conflict and the Peace Process in La Macarena

During the 1970s, the Macarena sector experienced an increase in population due to the fur trade and foreign tourism, but unfortunately, in the 1980s, the logging boom began. Besides that, for more than 40 years La Macarena and surrounding municipalities were occupied by blocks of the former FARC-EP guerrilla and other armed groups in constant conflict.

Guerrilla occupation generated many displacements and a difficult task for the conservation processes of the National Park System and non-profit organizations such as WWF. In fact, no inhabitant could move freely without a mobility permit issued by the FARC.

At the same time, this territory has been the scene of territorial and socio-environmental conflicts related to land ownership, extensive cattle ranching, deforestation, illicit crops, and the presence of armed actors. Despite the efforts and hope brought about by the Peace Agreement, disputes and conflicts in this region were reconfigured and exacerbated after its signing in 2016, increasing the challenges for the conservation of these strategic ecosystems and for peace building in the communities.

Community Actions for Conservation

In the midst of this complex context, some small farmer families living in the Sierra de La Macarena have decided to make a commitment to conservation and are now participating in ecological restoration processes with the production and planting of native tree species, and with ecotourism entrepreneurship.

Tourism appeared as a saving option. Today, in fact, it is for 350 families who live directly from the income generated by this activity. People who work in simple but clean hotels, cooking for tourists, as guides, canoeists, and drivers. Even translators, although so far they only have three who speak English.

Thus, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MinCit) o Colombia has generated strategies to promote sustainable tourism and support the communities of La Macarena.

Sierra de la Macarena National Natural park

Sierra de la Macarena NNP is in the department of Meta, in the Andean foothills of the Amazon rainforest. In this part of the country, the Andean, Amazonian and Orinoco ecosystems converge, and it has a territorial extension of 10,000 km².

This protected area was created by Decree 1989 of September 1, 1989 and covers an area of 605,793 hectares distributed in 5 municipalities in the southern part of the department of Meta.

The park’s Environmental Management Plan incorporates an ecotourism management plan, which indicates the possible scenarios for this activity. Currently, there are only two characterized scenarios with defined carrying capacity and regulations: Caño Cristales and Raudal Angosturas 1.

Other scenarios have been identified but are not yet regulated for visits, including the La Paz Ecological Trail, the Santo Domingo and Cafetales waterfalls in Mesetas and San Juan de Arama, as well as Raudal II near Puerto Concordia. Thus, these areas cannot be visited because they are still in the process of being organized.

Tourist attractions of Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park

Today it is possible to visit Caño Cristales with its new trails and the Raudal Angosturas I, thanks to the articulated work that has been carried out since 2014 with the creation of the Mesa Ruta Sierra de la Macarena and the need to expand the supply of ecotourism trails in the Caño Cristales sector, as well as to carry out sufficient technical procedures to implement new ecotourism scenarios that will involve a larger population in the community benefits of tourism in the municipality of La Macarena.

Caño Cristales, the Rainbow River

Cano Cristales, La Macarena, Meta, Colombia.

The Macarena’s most recognized attraction in the area is Caño Cristales, better known as “the river of the five colors”, “the most beautiful river in the world” or “the river that escaped from paradise”; one poet even called it “the rainbow that melted”.

Macarenia clavigera, an aquatic plant endemic to the Macarena, is what allows the river’s crystalline and shallow waters to offer a variety of colors that visitors can appreciate. The extension of the river does not exceed 100 kilometers and has a width of no more than 20 meters, which flows into the Guayabero River. The trails established to learn more about this beautiful place are five circuits of stone and plants, ranging from 3 to 15 kilometers in length.

For more information about Cano Cristales visit our entry Travel Guide to the Rainbow River – Caño Cristales – in Colombia.

Raudal de Angostura I and Ciudad de Piedra

Raudal de Angosturas, La Macarena, Meta, Colombia.

The Raudal Angosturas I destination opened in 2017, as a new ecotourism scenario for the enjoyment of tourists from Colombia and the world. It is a project where you can appreciate the pre-Columbian petroglyphs carved in rocks in low relief that tell the story of the ancestors of the Tinigua tribe when they lived in this area. In turn, Ciudad de Piedra is a trail composed of huge gray rock formations carved over centuries by the force of water.

Many local and national organizations worked together to create this tourist destination, among them, National Natural Parks of Colombia, Cormacarena, the Governor’s Office of Meta, the Mayor’s Office of La Macarena and other members that are part of the Technical Tourism Board: Sierra de la Macarena Route.

Raudal Angosturas I is located between the border of the Sierra de la Macarena and Tinigua National Parks and in the Recovery Zone for Southern Preservation in the municipality of La Macarena, Meta.

This natural wonder contains engraved in its petroglyphs the history of the Tinigua Indians and also the footprint of the armed conflict in Colombia.

The Military Forces of the region support this process of ecotourism management, since it will ensure the safety of those who will enjoy nature tourism in the Macarena Special Management Area.

If you wish to visit the other tourist attractions, you must have a guide specialized in the area, but you must inform the park facilities in the municipality of Granada, Meta.

How to get to Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park

The following alternatives are the most time efficient, as it is possible to arrive by land but the time will be longer, and probably not safe.

Via Bogotá – La Macarena

Take a 1-hour flight from El Dorado International Airport (BOG) Bogotá to La Macarena Airport (LMC) at La Macarena city with Satena airline. There are also private charter flights that take you there.

Via Cali – Villavicencio – La Macarena

Take a 1-hour flight from Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport in Palmira to Vanguardia Airport (VVC) at La Villavicencio city. Once at the airport, take an approximately 1- hour ride to La Macarena.

What to do in Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park

Hiking in La Macarena

There are 6 ecotourism trails allowed, which can be done walking or with the help of a horse, and are distributed as follows:

Caño Cristales Ecotourism Scenario, Colors subarea:

  • Salto del Aguila: the number of people allowed daily is 75.
  • Los Pianos: the number of people allowed per day is 62.
  • Caño Escondido: the number of people allowed per day is 37.
  • Intermedio: the number of people allowed per day is 42.

In this scenario you can appreciate the landscape, characteristic vegetation, geological formation, waterfalls, natural pools, aquatic plants (Macarenia clavijera) red, fuchsia and pink; in addition to bird watching.

Scenario Raudal de Angosturas I

  • Ciudad de Piedra: the number of people allowed daily is 37.

In this trail you can do bird watching tour geological formation and rocky outcrop, in addition to the Caño with red plants.

Scenario Mirador Cristalitos

  • Mirador-cristalitos: the number of people allowed daily is 87.

This trail has pictograms, a panoramic view of the convergence of the three ecosystems along its route.

Bear in mind that the trails mentioned above are only authorized by the environmental authorities o the park and may have variations in the routes, which visitors will be informed of when registering. You cannot choose the trail to visit, it is assigned by the authorities and given in order of registration.

Birdwatching at Sierra de la Macarena

There are more than 450 bird species registered in the la Macarena, represented in 65 families, which means that 27% of the Colombian avifauna is present in the park. Dominant bird species are from the Guianas, Amazon and, to a lesser extent, the Andean region.

The following bird species have been recorded from the Amazon: Paroaria gularis gularis, Piaya melanogaster, Electron platyrhynchum pyrrholaemum; from the Andes: Asio flammeus, Trogon personatus personatus, Campephilus pollens, Cistothorus platensis tamae; migratory birds from North America: Anas discors, Pandion haliaetus carolinensis, Actitis macularia, and Coccyzus americanus americanus.

Where to stay in Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park

Sierra de la Macarena Natural National Park does not currently offer accommodation for travelers, it is possible to stay in La Macarena. Our recommendation of hotels are is La Manigua Lodge, a beautiful ecolodge recently installed in the area. Know more about ecolodges in Colombia in our entry Complete Guide to the Best Eco lodges in Colombia.

Best time to visit Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park

The main attraction of La Macarena, Caño Cristales, only receives visitors during the winter season, that is, between June and December; for the summer season the community allows the aquatic plants to recover. However, Raudal de Angosturas I is open all year round.

Dry season on the eastern side of La Macarena starts at the beginning of December until late of February at a temperature of 24º C (75 ºF). On the western side the rainfall regime is bimodal, it also has 2 dry periods separated by rainy seasons.

Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park Entrance fees

The entrance fee varies depending on the nationality and age of the visitors. These are the entrance fees for 2021:

  • Colombians, resident foreigners and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru (ages 5 to 25): COP 19,500
  • Colombians, resident foreigners and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru (over 25 years old): COP 35,500
  • Non-resident foreigners (over 5 years old): COP 53,500
  • Children under 5 years old and Colombians over 65 years old have free entrance presenting their IDs.

What to consider before visiting Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park

  • To take any of the tours inside the park you must hire an authorized and certified guide.
  • Consider wearing personal protective items (sunscreen, sunglasses, insect repellent, and hat).
  • The use of flash when taking photographs is prohibited.
  • Use of binoculars to watch animals’ behavior is recommended.
  • Bring along valid identification documents and health insurance.
  • It is recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever and tetanus.
  • If you take specific medications, take them with you a personal first aid kit.

Some prohibitions

Feeding, bothering or hunting animals, alcoholic drinks and drugs, throwing cigarette butts, burning garbage, felling, and capturing wildlife.

References
About the authors

Sara Colmenares

The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism-environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.

Discover the gateway to the Colombian Amazon, the city of Mitú on the banks of the Vaupes River


Mitú, the capital of the department of Vaupés, located between 50 to 120 minutes by plane from Bogotá, is the ideal destination to immerse yourself in the depths of the jungle, where birds, nature, and ancestral culture allow you to leave aside the daily routine of modern life.

This is a unique destination, where the distance and the little communication with the rest of the country, has made it possible to maintain a large part of the culture and nature of the region.

The Ethnic Richness of Mitu

About 70% of the territory has been declared as an indigenous reserve, and for this reason, visitors and access must have the permission of the indigenous leaders.

Mitú has a population that is mostly part of ancestral indigenous tribes such as the Tukano, Guananos, Yurutíes, Cubeos, Piratapuyos, Desanos, and many others. There are 26 communities in total, and about 29 dialects, which represents the amazing ethnic richness in this region of Colombia.

The Vaupes River is the connector of these communities. People move in boats and canoes transporting local people, agricultural products, merchandise, and tourists.

Get to know Mitú

It is a simple and small city, located on the banks of the Vaupés River, surrounded by freshwater streams and the thick Amazon jungle.

When you arrive in the city, you can stroll through the main square Parque Santander, where you will find the Governor’s Office, the María Inmaculada Cathedral and the monument to the “Guio”, which pays homage to the origin of the indigenous peoples who live there. Guio means anaconda.

In this square, it is common to find food, handicrafts, and the typical gastronomic offer of the region.

The Fabio Alberto Leon Bentley Airport is the main gateway for travelers arriving to discover the territory. The Satena airline is the only one with flights to Mitu from Bogota or Villavicencio.

Satena airline offers flight to Mitu from Bogota and Villavicencio.

Places to Enjoy in Mitu

The trip to Mitú is ideal if you like bird watching. In Vaupes you will find more than 570 bird species, which offer a unique spectacle. Local guides specialized in the subject will give you all the information about the birds that you can find in the city.

Find more information about birding in Vaupes in our entry Vaupes, a Must to Visit Birding Destination in the Colombian Amazon.

Birdwatching at the Colombian Amazon, Mitú, Vaupés

It is also possible to walk along special trails outside the city center to enjoy a wide variety of species, not only birds but also flora and different types of animals, always accompanied by local guides.

To visit these places, you will have to access the territory of the communities, and you can only do so if you have permission from the leader of the community and if you are accompanied by a local guide.

The Malecon

The Malecon has a pedestrian walkway that runs one kilometer along the Vaupes River. It has small squares and kiosks adorned with gardens of local vegetation, where many birds arrive.

The Food Market and Port

This is a very rustic square, located next to the river where you can find typical food of the region prepared by the hands of indigenous women in wood and charcoal stoves. Here you can enjoy traditional dishes for very cheap prices.

Food Maloka, Mitu, Vaupes, Colombia

There are about 15 food stalls where you can find “borugo en caldo”, “lapa”, fish, cassava, manioc, among other foods provided by the jungle. The natives take advantage of the permitted hunting seasons to obtain the animals to eat.

Lapa soup, Mitu, Vaupes, Colombia

Around this place, indigenous gather to offer many kinds of products. Every Friday, people from different communities arrive in the place, bringing their products to sell in the market. It is possible to find cassava flour, casabe, pichuna grapes, quinapira, copoazu, fish, and reptiles that are used as food.

Hiking and River Trips in Vaupes

There are trails for hiking and river trips that will take you to the indigenous communities, open to tourists with their ancestral vision of the birds and other animals of the region.

Hiking Routes Around Mitu

The ecological walks established around the city have as a special destination different high hills, or tepuis, from where we suggest you to observe the jungle that expands from and towards the river.

Mituseño Urania

Five kilometers from the city you can visit the Mituseño Urania community. It is a small village with two important sacred places: the chair of the god Cubay and the hill of Urania.

The Odocabeba (Urania) Hill, is a rocky outcrop 200 meters high, where you will observe the jungle, and share the day with the Cubeo indigenous people, owner of this beautiful viewpoint of the jungle.

You will also visit the territory of the Cubeo’s god Cubay, and a rock traditionally called the “Silla de Cubay” from where, according to legend, the deity observes the jungle.

Once you reach the top, you will find a jungle landscape crossed by the waters of the Vaupes river that carries small boats with goods and tourists in the middle of the jungle.

Ceima Cachivera

6 kilometers from Mitú is the Ceima Cachivera community. This community opened to visitors following the motivation of its captain Sergio Gutierrez, which is a professional tourist guide formed at SENA, the national institute of learning.

Sergio cordially welcomes visitors who want to get to know the treasures of the jungle. After an introduction about the characteristics of the territory and the community, he leads the expeditions that last an average of two hours.

There are different stops during the hike, the first one is the raudal of Cachivera Tucunare, a waterfall. Then you will continue towards a series of caves and rocky formations, sacred for the Cubeos, such as the Tiger Cave or the Toad Cave, where the Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock is usually observed.

Cerro Flecha Mitú, Vaupés

Finally, there is Cerro Flecha, a hill with a spectacular 360 view of the jungle. It is also a sacred place for the Cubeos, since this hill was the place from which its god Cubay prayed over the region.

Trekking Cerro Flecha Mitú, Vaupés

Cerro Guacamayas

Cerro Guacamayas is another jungle viewpoint. To reach its summit you must take a path through swamps and through the Chagras, or small spaces for the sustenance of the indigenous communities, where they plant and establish a series of relationships with the land.

As the trail is rough, you should bring along food and drinks, swamp boots, long-sleeved shirts, and insect repellent. The entire route is flat until you reach the hill, a gigantic rock that encloses an ecosystem in which characteristics shrubs and vegetation grow.

Inselberg, Cerro Guacamaya, Mitú, Vaupés

You may climb up the rock with the help of a harness, or if you feel confident, you can reach it by your own. Once you reach the top you will find the entire Amazon rainforest at your feet.

Amazon forest – Cerro Guacamaya – Mitú, Vaupés

Once you descend from the viewpoint, you will reach the Caño Sangre, a natural “jacuzzi” of terracotta color, fruit of the vegetation that grows at the bottom of the pipe.

Mitú, Vaupés

River Trips

Before continue, I must tell you that for the indigenous people, the Vaupes River is sacred. For them, under the waters of the river resides the world of the gods. It is a place where the ancestral cycle of the anaconda takes place.

Vaupés River, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

The anaconda gives identity to the community, and plays a central role in their mythology and genesis of their people. We recommend you to watch the documentary El Sendero de la Anaconda to better understand the sacred relationship that the indigenous people established with the river. It is available on Netflix.

Cachivera Cerro Flecha Mitú, Vaupés

You can visit several streams and pipes that connect with the Vaupes River. Among them, one of the closest is the Raudal Tatu Chachivera, a ravine feared for its strength.

It is important to be accompanied by a local guide who knows very well how to overcome these ravines. Generally, the indigenous people of the Trubon community are in charge of guiding you through this part of the Vaupes River.

Another place, very close to Mitu, is the Cucura bathing place, where the huge stones form natural pools.

Learning about different cultures

The most interesting thing about Mitú is that it is possible to share with some communities their traditions, observe their costumes and learn about their customs. You will be received in a Maloca, in the famous festivities of Yuruparí, where you will be invited along with the children to participate in a traditional dance.

Jerico Community

Here you can interact with the culture and tradition of the Tatuyo people. This community is located two hours from Mitu. There you will be welcomed by the wise man of this community called Agustin Munoz.

The main attraction is the colorful Maloca of the community. There you will enjoy an opiparous banquet prepared in the traditional way with typical foods such as cassava, fish muquiado, fish with caruru, and copoazu and azai juices. Everyone can help themselves to the food they want.

Traditional food served in handmade dishes, Mitu, Vaupes, Colombia

Afterwards there will be a protection ritual, where with a reddish powder called carayuru, the women will paint your face with a set of lines on your forehead and cheeks.

Protection Ritual, Mitu, Vaupes, Colombia

Mambe is also offered to the attendees. It is a powder obtained by toasting, grinding, and sifting the coca leaf, which is mixed with ashes from a cecropia tree. Don Agustin will explain to you the benefits of consuming this preparation.

Beware that the Mambe is a stimulant that should only be chewed, so don’t eat it!

Souvenirs

The handicrafts of Vaupes are beautiful. The indigenous people capture their culture and tradition in these unique handicrafts. You can find clay pots polished with river stones, plates, blue clay vessels with traditional engravings, trays, and baskets handwoven with vegetable fibers, vases, etc. All worked in fibers such as cumare or guarumo, clay and wood.

Indigenous jewerly from Mitu, Vaupes, Colombia

These handicrafts greatly represent the Colombian Amazon and are a source of pride for the inhabitants of Vaupes.

Handicrafts of Vaupes

Recommendations for your visit

  • Take yellow fever and tetanus vaccines before arrival.
  • Do not forget the mosquito repellent, it is highly recommended.
  • Rubber boots, raincoat, long-sleeved shirts, sunscreen.
  • Leave no trace.

If you want to plan your trip to Colombia do not hesitate to contact us, visit our Plan your trip page!

References
  • Colombia Travel
  • SINCHI – Institute of Scientific Reseach of the Amazon.
  • Satena
About the author

Sara Colmenares

The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism–environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Vaupes, a Must to Visit Birding Destination in the Colombian Amazon

Vaupés, with its capital Mitú, is the gateway to the Amazonian trapezoid in Colombia. Its rich biodiversity is evident everywhere, and it is a must to visit birdwatching destinations in Colombia.

This wealth is not only biological, in Vaupés we have a wide diversity of indigenous cultures represented in 26 ethnic groups that share traditional knowledge about the management of the forest, and about their culture.

Miguel Portura, one of the best birding guides in Vaupes.

Vaupés has more than 570 bird species. Most of the species are widely distributed in the Amazon, but there are several subspecies associated with the Guyanese shield. The avifauna of this region is very special, which fully justifies its protection and study.

Birdwatching tourism has grown in the region as a good strategy for bird conservation and sustainability. Thanks to the organized work of indigenous communities in conjunction with SENA, the national learning institute, many locals found profit on this business.

In 2018, the local community, SENA, and the ACO organized the most important ornithological meeting in Colombia, the National Meeting of Ornithology (ENO), making its successful opening as a well-organized birdwatching destination.

ENO 2018, Mitú – Vaupés – Colombia

Today, Vaupes has a very good supply of local guides prepared to receive all visitors. They know the stories about the origin of the birds, their songs, their habitat, their signs, and the important role that their plumages play in the culture.

The great diversity of indigenous cultures, and their oral and sung tradition about birds make Mitú the ideal place to marvel at the great cultural and natural richness of our country. It is a unique destination in Colombia for Ethno-Ornithology. In addition, Vaupes is a territory of peace, recovering as a post-conflict destination.

Where is Vaupes?

The department of Vaupés is located in the southeast of Colombia, in the region of the Amazon known as the Guiana Shield. This region covers an extensive area of northern South America.

Find out more about the Guiana Shield in our entry Why Chiribiquete is called the Sistine Chapel of Colombia?

In Vaupes you will find one of the least populated, best conserved, and most heterogeneous regions in the world. There the Guiana and Amazonia ecosystems converge, and you will find in one place the famous tepuis of the Guiana shield, and the dry land forests, whitewater, and blackwater flooded forests, largest patches of white sand forests and savannas of the Amazon.

How to get to Vaupes

It can be reached by air, the commercial passenger company SATENA has direct flights of approximately 50 minutes.

Bear in mind that flights are limited, and they only depart on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays from Bogota; and, Thursdays and Saturdays from Villavicencio.

There are also other companies that may eventually, make passenger charter flights.

Best time to visit

The best time to go for a birdwatching trip to Vaupes is after the rainy season, specially the months between November to April.

Birds of Vaupes

Given the great diversity of ecosystems in Vaupes, it is possible to find a great variety of birds. The checklist of the department of Vaupés includes 579 species distributed in 360 genera, 63 families, and 24 orders.

You can download a very complete checklist of the birds of Vaupes at the SINCHI institute website.

Highlighted birds

Discover near-endemic birds such as Chestnut-crested Antbird (Rhegmatorhina cristata) and Orinoco Piculet (Picumnus pumilus), and endangered birds such as Crestless curassow (Mitu tomentosum), and Grey-winged trumpeter (Psophia crepitans).

Among the birds found only in the department are Brown-banded Puffbird (Notharchus ordii), Tawny-tufted toucanet (Selenidera nattereri), Yellow-throated Antwren (Myrmotherula ambigua), among others.

Other interesting birds you can find are:

  • Saffron-crested Tyrant-Manakin
  • Screaming Piha
  • Citron-bellied Attila
  • Tawny-tufted Toucanet
  • Brown-banded Puffbird
  • Azure-naped Jay
  • Pompadour Cotinga
  • Fiery Topaz
  • White-plumed Antbird
  • Black Bushbird
  • White-fronted Nunbird
  • Spotted Puffbird
  • White-plumed Antbird

Birding Routes in Vaupes

All birding routes are immersed in the indigenous communities surrounding the capital of Vaupés. You need permission to visit them, and also you must be accompanied by a local guide. But don’t worry, if you plan your trip ahead before your arrival everything will be ready.

Mituseño – Urania

This indigenous settlement belongs mostly to the Kubeo (Pamiwa) ethnic group and is located on the banks of the Vaupés river to the northeast of Vaupés. There are rock formations and Varzeas that are flood plains of the Vaupés River.

Golden-headed Mankin (Ceratopipra erythrocephala), Mitu, Vaupes, Colombia

Highlights

  • Swallow-winged Puffbird
  • Bronzy Jacamar
  • Blue-crowned Manakin
  • White-crowned Manakin
  • Amazonian Umbrellabird
  • Azure-naped Jay

Mitu Cachivera

This community is located just five minutes from the town of Mitú, on the banks of the Vaupés River. This place offers about four trails that include white-sand forests, rivers with red water, and rocky outcrops.

Birdwatching at the Colombian Amazon, Mitú, Vaupés

Highlights

  • Fiery Topaz
  • Pavonine Quetzal
  • Black-tailed Trogon
  • Amazonian Trogon
  • Blue-crowned Trogon
  • Black-throated Trogon
  • Brown-banded Puffbird
  • Rusty-breasted Nunlet

Cerrito Verde

This birding spot is located 45 minutes from the urban center of Mitu, it has well-preserved mature terra-firme forests. It has a mosaic of landscapes ranging from primary forests to savannas and rocky outcrops within the Amazon jungle.

Red-fan Parrot (Deroptyus accipitrinus), Mitú, Vaupés

Highlights

  • Guianan Cock-of-the-rock
  • Black-eared Fairy
  • Pavonine Quetzal
  • Amazonian Trogon
  • Tawny-tufted Toucanet
  • Maroon-tailed Parakeet
  • Chestnut-crested Antbird
Guianan Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola rupicola), Mitú, Vaupés

La Libertad

This indigenous settlement is located across the Vaupés River from the town of Mitú. You will find trails of white sands, flooded forests, and dry land. In one of the trails, you will have to take a canoe at some point to continue.

Birdwatching at the Amazon Forest, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

Highlights

  • Fork-tailed Palm-Swift
  • White-bearded Hermit
  • Black-throated Hermit
  • Swallow-winged Puffbird
  • Orange-cheeked Parrot
  • Yellow-crowned Parrot
  • White-crowned Manakin
  • Green-tailed Goldenthroat
  • Amazonian Umbrellabird
Amazonian Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus ornatus), La libertad, Mitú, Vaupés

Santa Marta – Puerto Golondrina

It is located 12 kilometers downriver from the governor’s port on the Vaupés River and entering through the Cuduyarí River. This is the land of the community of Kubeos. Its main trail connects with the community of Puerto Golondrina. It has terra-firme forest and white sands.

Highlights

  • Straight-billed Hermit
  • Green-tailed Goldenthroat
  • Ivory-billed Aracari
  • Pompadour Cotinga
  • Amazonian Tyrannulet
  • Amazonian Grosbeak
  • Coraya Wren
White-bearded Manakin – Manacus manacus – Cerro Guacamaya, Mitú, Vaupés

Pueblo Nuevo

Located on kilometer 20, this community has well-preserved mature terra firme forests and a mosaic of landscapes that range from mosaic of landscapes ranging from primary forests to savannas and rocky outcrops.

Swallow-winged Puffbird (Chelidoptera tenebrosa), Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

Highlights

  • Gilded Barbet
  • Tawny-tufted Toucanet
  • Ringed Antpipit
  • Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet
  • Chestnut-crested Antbird
  • Amazonian Scrub-Flycatcher

Santa Cruz

Located 32 kilometers from the urban center, the community is located past the Vaupés River and the trail is near the Vaupés Micro Hydroelectric Plant MCH. This site is of great cultural interest because it is the site of the great cachivera of Iparare, where most of the cultures of Vaupés were born.

It has well-preserved terra firme forests and rocky elevations where the flora and fauna of the place converge such as quetzals, trogons, and antbirds.

Highlights

  • Opal-crowned Tanager
  • White-fronted Nunbird
  • Black Bushbird
  • Musician Wren
  • Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin
Vaupés Micro Hydroelectric Plant MCH ©laotraopinion.net

Recommendations for your visit

  • Take yellow fever and tetanus vaccines before arrival.
  • Do not forget the mosquito repellent, it is highly recommended.
  • Rubber boots, raincoat, long-sleeved shirts, sunscreen.
  • Leave no trace.

If you want to plan your trip to Colombia do not hesitate to contact us, visit our Plan your trip page!

References
  • Colombia Travel
  • Stiles, F. G. : La avifauna de la parte media del río Apaporis, departamentos de Vaupés y Amazonas, Colombia. Rev. Acad. Colomb. Cienc. 34 (132): 381-390, 2010. ISSN 0370-3908.
  • SINCHI – Institute of Scientific Reseach of the Amazon.
  • Etno-birding Vaupes.
About the author

Sara Colmenares

The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism–environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Bird-watching Tourism Helps to Reduce Bird Extinction Risks in Colombia


Extinction is the disappearance of all members of a species. Extinction is considered from the instant in which the last individual of a species dies.

Colombia is a megadiverse country, with a natural wealth that for a long time was hidden by the shadow of war. Recent scientific expeditions, such as Colombia Bio, have shown how little we knew about our fauna and flora, so much so that with each of them new species have been discovered.

Colombia bio ©Colciencias

However, the expeditions also left the question of how much we may not have known. We are now in a race against indiscriminate and poorly controlled human intervention.

Deforestation, expansion of the agricultural frontier, mining, illicit crops are now present in these previously unexplored territories.

Tourism still needs to make its way into these regions as a competitive and profitable alternative. At the same time, as a good strategy for biodiversity conservation.

International Union for Conservation of Nature, UICN

The UICN is an organization whose mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.

IUCN has been active for more than 70 years, and today works in a combined effort to conserve nature and accelerate the transition to sustainable development.

IUCN has developed a comprehensive information system on the conservation status of animal, fungal and plant species worldwide: The IUCN Red List.

The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria

The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria is a system for classifying the risk of extinction of species worldwide. It divides species into nine categories:

  • Not Evaluated, NE.
  • Data Deficient, DD.
  • Least Concern, LC.
  • Near Threatened, NT.
  • Vulnerable, VU.
  • Endangered, EN.
  • Critically Endangered, CR.
  • Extinct in the Wild, EW.
  • Extinct, EX.

Species may move up or down the list as their populations increase or decline. Find more information at the UICN Red List website iucnredlist.org.

Bird Extinction

Painting of a dodo head by Cornelis Saftleven from 1638, probably the latest original depiction of the species ©Cornelis Saftleven – History of the dodo. http://julianhume.co.uk/

According to Colombia Birdfair, 40% of the bird species that inhabit our planet are going through a population decline, and 1 in 8 species is threatened. In addition to this, 1.4% have become extinct.

Here you will find some data:

Human activities are the main factor related with bird extinction. Climate change, intensive agriculture, invasive species, illegal hunting and overfishing are behind this devastating statistic.

First Bird Extinct in Colombia

The only bird species known to be extinct in Colombia is the Colombian GrebePodiceps andinus, endemic to the wetlands in the Eastern Andes of Colombia.  It was last recorded in 1977 in Lake Tota. 

Podiceps andinus ©Paula Andrea Romero, Arte&Conservación – BirdsColombia

Its disappearance is associated with the combined result of wetland drainage, and the eutrophication and salinization that has destroyed the submerged Potamogeton vegetation, where this species fed on a great variety of arthropods. 

Additional extinction factors were the introduction of exotic fish, such as the rainbow trout Salmo gairdneri (Fjeldså 1993), hunting, pesticide pollutionremoval of reeds, and predation. 

Bogota Rail – Rallus semiplumbeus, EN. ©neilorlandodiazma CC BY-SA 2.0.

According to the Humedales de Bogotá Foundation, the extinction of the Colombian Grebe should be remembered, and should serve as a lesson. 

Currently, there are two species of birds endemic to the Bogotá Savanna in critical danger of extinction, the Bogota Rail (Rallus semiplumbeus) and the Apolinar’s Wren (Cistothorus apolinari). Sadly, very little is being done to reverse this situation. 

Know more about the wetlands of Bogotá in our entry Wetlands of Bogotá are the Best Spots for Birdwatching in the City. 

Tracking Extinction Risks

Rengifo et al. 2020, calculated the degree of extinction threat to the country’s birds from 2002 to 2016 in a recent study which is the first study of its kind.

The main conclusion of the study is that habitat loss is the main threat to the Colombian Birds. Moreover, the results of this study left two flavors, one sweet and one somewhat bitter: Colombia has the potential to become the Country of Birds, or the Country of Bird Extinction. 

Podiceps andinus, ICN, National University of Colombia, Bogotá.

On the positive side, birds have benefited from land abandonment and subsequent habitat recovery as people moved to cities, from the reduction in the rate of habitat loss as illegal coca cultivation shifted between regions, and from conservation actions. 

On the negative side, the most important causes of the deterioration in conservation status are habitat loss due to the expansion of illicit crops, the same sad story, and population declines due to hunting. Yes, hunting! 

Of the two, I will only dwell on hunting, because the story of illegal cultivation speaks for itself. The people who enter the territories to extract resources such as timber, or gold, generally illegally, need to eat. And to eat, they hunt birds. 

Additionally, other significant threats for birds such as the increased presence of invasive and domestic animals, such as trout, cats, rats, dogs, and the Shiny cowbird; as well as agriculture expansion, cattle ranching, timber extraction, illegal mining, oil production, water contamination and habitat loss due to city expansion. 

The Most Threatened Areas and Birds 

The most threatened birds are those living in mangroves and freshwater habitats in the Pacific region and the Pacific Ocean. Also, the species living in the High Andean forest and paramo. 

The Andes and the Pacific are two natural regions with many endemic and restricted-range species. 

The most affected areas are the southern Pacific and Andean regions on the border with Ecuador. 

The Andes region has experienced extensive agricultural activities and deforestation for centuries. It is also a region negatively affected by climate change. All of this has resulted in the loss of habitat for birds. 

Apolinar’s Wren – Cistothorus apolinari – Endemic, CR.

On the other hand, the Pacific region has been affected by illegal crops, illegal logging and illegal mining, which are the main threats to birds in this region. 

Illegal crops, illegal logging and illegal mining are also important causes of habitat loss in some other regions. Illegal logging occurs mainly in Darién (Pacific Region) and Amazon. Illegal mining occurs mainly in Chocó (Pacific region). And, illegal crops also occur in the Catatumbo, Norte de Santander, on the border with Venezuela. 

Here is the list of birds mentioned in the study with the most remarkable changes in category of threat in Colombia:

Genuine changes suffered by species during 2002–2016 period. Endemic species are marked with asterisk*.

Birdwatching Tourism as a Conservation Strategy

This study concluded that local economic development based on birdwatching tourism remains a good strategy for bird conservation, because despite clear threats, the overall risk of bird extinction in Colombia remains relatively low and stable.

However, this should not be a reason to postpone actions to conserve species and prevent extinctions.

Not everything is bad, in our entry Birdwatching Tourism in Colombia During the Post-conflict Scenarium I will tell you what has been done since the signing of the peace agreement, in favor of birding tourism as a strategy for bird conservation. 

Colombia Birdfair 2021: Preventing Extinction

In 2021, the most important bird fair in Colombia, the Colombia Birdfair, has extinction as its main topic.

This year Colombia Birdfair will have an extensive program of academic talks, courses and special activities for children and young people. From February 11 to 14 it will present the theme “Preventing Extinction” and will feature national and international experts on conservation and extinction issues.

 

This year the fair will be 100% virtual. According to Carlos Mario Wagner, director of the fair,

“virtuality is a great opportunity to connect with audiences and bird lovers from different countries, and thus promote bird conservation globally”.

The event expects to gather a large national and international audience around of the seventh version of the Colombia Birdfair. It looks for an exchange of ideas and proposals on conservation and birding tourism, with specialists from several continents.

The following are the main lecturers:

  • From India: Purnima Devi Barman Ph.D.
  • From Colombia: Natalia Ocampo Peñuela Ph.D., Carolina Murcia Ph.D., María Ángela Echeverry Galvis Ph.D., Ana María Morales Cañizares, Rubén Darío Palacio, Diego Calderón Franco, Jhon Fredy Casamachin Ui, Diego Ochoa and Ángela María Amaya Villarreal (co-author of the mentioned study in this post).
  • From The United Kingdom: Stuart Pimm Ph.D., David Lindo, Phil Gregory and Stuart Butchart Ph.D. (co-author of the mentioned study in this post).
  • From Kenia: Washington Wachira
  • From The United States: Jennifer Ackerman, Kenn Kaufman, LoraKim Joyner and Mollee Brown.
  • From Spain: Josep del Hoyo Calduch

Registrations are open on the website: http://www.colombiabirfair.com/.

With the registration, you will have virtual access to the lectures and talks from February 11 to 14, 2021. Registrtion fee: 14USD.

For more information about birding trips to Colombia and the birds of Colombia visit our entry The Complete Colombia Birdwatching Guide: Tourism & Conservation.

If you want to know more about the most incredible natural destinations in Colombia, plan your trip with us!

References
About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Birdwatching Tourism in Colombia During the Post-conflict Scenario

Colombia is a megadiverse country. It is also a country with a difficult history. War has been around for more than 60 years. With the signing of the peace agreement in 2016, Colombia opened up as never before, presenting a rich, unexplored and under-exploited territory. It also was the starting of the post-conflict struggle.

Paradoxically, the conservation of natural habitats in Colombia was facilitated by the war conflict, preventing territories from being invaded by development and deforestation.

Colombia’s Post-conflict Scenarium

Tourism has been one of the sectors that have benefited the most from the peace agreement, especially nature tourism.

One of the economic benefits of the peace agreement in Colombia has been that local communities have an alternative business opportunity in bird watching tourism.

The most remarkable result was the bird-watching expansion to areas, that were formerly unsafe, such as Caquetá and Putumayo.

Western Striolated-Puffbird, Nystalus obamai. Fin del Mundo, Putumayo, Colombia.

However, not everything has been rosy. This time of transition has cost us, especially due to the lack of proper administration and governance in the territories that were liberated from the conflict.

The Environmental Cost of the Post-conflict

Deforestation

Many studies on post-conflict dynamics have concluded that the social, political, and administrative imbalance that remains in the new peace territories leads to environmental degradation, especially through increased deforestation.

Unfortunately, it has been recognized that the main threat to Colombian birds is the loss of habitat caused by deforestation. Deforestation occurs when people begin to use the resources to which they did not have access before.

Carrying Capacity Excedeed

Another aspect is the deterioration of the new sites due to uncontrolled visitation by tourists and visitors, which exceeds the carrying capacity limits of many of these sites.

Deforestation Hotspots in the Colombian Amazon, part 3: Chiribiquete-Macarena ©MAAP

An example of this is the Chiribiquete National Natural Park, which had to be closed to visitors due to vandalism and overcrowding. In addition, the park has also been threatened by deforestation.

Other Conflicts

Likewise, demobilization has not been complete, and there are still some illegal groups that continue with their own agenda.

Finally, it is unfortunate to have to mention that the murder of environmental leaders has also seriously affected the country.

The Boom of Scientific Expeditions

In Colombia, the peace process also allowed scientific explorations to expand in the territory, as it was possible to visit places previously closed due to public safety issues.

Colombia Bio Expeditions

Colombia bio ©Colciencias

After the signing of the peace treaty, the Colombia Bio project, promoted by Colciencias, was launched in the country.

Colombia BIO aimed to carry out 20 expeditions in the period between 2016 and 2018 in order to generate knowledge about biodiversity. The expditions were possible thanks to the end of the conflict.

The expeditions were conducted in continental and marine areas that were:

  • Unexplored areas,
  • In post-conflict territories,
  • Under threat, or
  • Associated with transformed landscapes.

Many of the explored areas shared several of those characteristics. The Colombia Bio expeditions discovered countless new species of fauna and flora in the country.

Thanks to this, and to the great impulse that the Colombian government gave to birdwatching tourism, Colombian ornithologists, as well as bird lovers, now have more and better information about the birds of the most bird-rich country in the world.

2021: 5 Years After the Signing of the Peace Agreement

In 2021 it will be five years since the signing of the peace agreement. Since then, the country has been preparing to become a world-class bird-watching destination.

Today we have improvements such as:

Additionally, today we have a big advance in terms of policy for tourism and nature tourism training.

First Sustainability Policy for Tourism in Colombia

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism launched the first sustainability policy for tourism in Colombia in December 2020. It is called the Sustainable tourism policy “United for Nature”.

This sustainability policy aims to position sustainability as a fundamental pillar for the development of tourism in Colombia through a strategic plan for 2030 called the Roadmap for Sustainable Tourism.

This plan is composed of six strategies, 14 programs, 32 projects and 140 policy actions.

Sustainable Development Goals

The objectives of the plan focus on the following guidelines:

  • Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Efficient energy management and investment in renewable and non-conventional energy sources.
  • Responsible management of solid waste.
  • Saving and efficient use of water.
  • Adequate wastewater treatment.
  • Protection of the country’s biodiversity and ecosystems.

First Guide for Nature Tourism in Colombia

They also launched the first guide for nature tourism in Colombia together with ProColombia, and the support of USAID’s Natural Wealth Program; the Humboldt Institute; and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

©Illustrated Handbook for Nature Tourism Guides in Colombia

The guide is called “Contemplation Comprehension, Conservation: An Illustrated Handbook for Nature Tourism Guides in Colombia”.

 

It will be a tool for the country to take advantage of its potential as an international destination with sustainable and responsible practices.

You can take a look to the Handbook in the website https://guianaturaleza.colombia.travel/en/

The Colombian Birding Trails

At the same time, Since 2015, Audubon, in collaboration with Asociación Calidris, has been working on bird-based ecotourism initiatives in Colombia to support local development and conservation.

Picture from Audubon: “Wayuu indigenous students and teacher Alvaro Jaramillo are bird watching in La Guajira, Colombia this past June. The program teaches locals to become tour guides for travelers interested in spotting birds. Photo: Carlos Villalon”

Audubon has been training many people as specialized bird tour informers in all regions of Colombia, and developing the following birding routes:

However, bilingual and bird-focused guides, as well as specialized birding infrastructure, such as canopy towers or canopy trails, platforms, hides, etc., are still underdeveloped.

Therefore, if you come to Colombia to watch birds, especially on your own, you will have the best guides in local people, as they have a first-hand experience with the local landscape and wildlife, but with low or basic training in bird identification and foreign language skills (i.e. English).

How We are Helping

In Sula we always work with the local community. Whether it is with the accompaniment of a local guide, with local transportation services, with lodging in hotels and lodges developed by local people, among others.

Visiting Usiacurí and Luriza Reserve

We have first-hand knowledge of all our allies, and also help people in their regions to develop and/or improve their products and services.

Organize your trip with us, so that you have the best services, and at the same time help the economic development of the regions you visit.

References
About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

#1 Birding Destination in Cesar: Cerro Pintado and Perijá Mountain Range

The Perijá mountain range is located in the north of Colombia and is a territory of great biological importance for the country and humanity due to its unique characteristics and the environmental services it provides in the region.

In addition, it has great cultural importance since it has reservations of the Yuko-Yupka and Bari indigenous peoples, almost extinct ethnic groups.

The economy of the region is based on agriculture and mining. In the agricultural part, permanent crops of oil palm, coffee, cocoa, and livestock stand out. On the other hand, mining focuses on the extraction of coal but it pollutes the sources of water, soil, and air.

The rural population, which suffers from high rates of poverty, has been the main affected by the armed conflict in the past. Community-based tourism, rural tourism, and bird watching tourism are economic alternatives for these communities that, until recently, became peace territories.

Perijá Mountain Range (Serranía del Perijá)

The The Perijá Mountain Range (or Serranía del Perijá) is an isolated, northern extension of Colombia’s East Andean Cordillera. It borders Venezuela for the whole of its north-south alignment.

Due to its independent orogeny from the Andes and other close Mountain Ranges, it hosts highly interesting avifauna and some endemism, although not to the same extent as the Santa Marta Mountains.  

The area is almost completely lacking ornithological coverage and very few expeditions have been undertaken to study the area. This is mainly because of the inaccessibility of the area due to a long and ongoing guerilla presence, enhanced by the Venezuelan crisis and illegal crop plantations.

Efforts of the Colombian military, at least parts of the Colombian side of the mountain range have become accessible to tourists but are still rarely visited by birders.  

While forests on the Colombian side of the accessible areas have been partly cleared, the areas on the Venezuelan have declared a National Park. Although, the ProAves Foundation has established the Perija Bird Reserve that protects some of the most interesting areas higher up in the Sabana Rubia sector. 

Cerro Pintado at Perijá Mountain Range

Cerro Pintado, Perijá Mountain Range, Manaure, Cesar

Cerro Pintado is located in northeastern Colombia, on the western slope of the Perijá mountain range. This area has unique characteristics allowing a vast diversification of different groups of fauna and flora. Its proximity to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and being the transition zone between the Guajira peninsula and the eastern Andes, makes it so special.

The vast majority of the hill is covered by premontane and montane forests which in the higher areas are replaced by paramos. At present, there are strong pressures of colonization, mainly from the lower parts to the higher ones, through the expansion of agriculture and livestock.

This site has been declared an Important Bird Area (IBA), with around 15.000 hectares. It holds significant numbers of globally threatened species, a significant population of range-restricted species, and holds a significant component of the group of species whose distributions are largely or wholly confined to one biome-realm (Know more at Birdlife International Website).

We all were stunned by the beauty of this remote area. The Cerro Pintado delineates the border with Venezuela and stood in the backdrop of the untouched forest below us! 

A Famtrip with Ropero Aventuras

In this perspective, it was a big privilege to visit the area on the Sula Fam Trip in December 2018 for a good 3 days. We were accompanied by Jose Luis Ropero from Ropero Aventuras, who knows the area very well.

If visiting the area as an individual, it is absolutely mandatory to hire a local guide! During our trip, we explored the altitude gradient available from the Colombian side from 800m a.s.l. – 3100m m.a.s.l. 

Vereda San Antonio

On our first morning, we explored the foothills around Manaure and found the beautiful Rosy Thrush-Tanager singing, seconds later posing for pictures sitting in a bush. Climbing the road up to Vereda San Antonio, where we stayed for the night, we found little activity. 

Rosy Thrush–Tanager – Rhodinocichla rosea, Balcón del Cesar, Cesar

The owner of the Finca has serious plans to convert the place into a hotel. During our stay there, several mountain bikers explored the area, and it was nice to see (again, and again), how many parts of Colombia tourism are taking flight.  So many local people put in effort, as they recognize it as a viable and sustainable economy. 

Vereda San Antonio still lacks some basic infrastructure but with the often boundless enthusiasm and energy people put into such projects, this could change very soon… And their location would be exquisite as there are very few other options in the area. 

During our two evening and late morning excursions in the close vicinity of the Finca, we birded some small but very productive woodland patches. We saw the regional endemic Perija TapaculoGrey-throated WarblerPerijá Brushfinch and ssp. nigrifrons of Yellow-breasted Brushfinch (a good species under IOC Taxonomy = Black-fronted Brushfinch). 

The Paramo Area

One morning, we devoted to the search of the little known Perijá Thistletailregional endemic Furnariid of high altitudes. We reached the Paramo-like habitat very early on a chilly but cloudless morning. And most important: almost no wind, and actually quite a rare occasion up here! 

Tawny-breasted Tinamou sang in the Valley below. Little trails leading into the forest were very tempting, but we didn’t have time to explore them. The song of Perija Thistletail immediately caught our attention, instead.

With the help of a little playback, we lured the bird completely out into the open. Camilla took an excellent photos of this individual, and I was able to take immaculate sound recordings.

As the morning progressed, the first rays of light warmed us and general bird activity increased. An Andean Pygmy-Owl sat out in the open and was mobbed by Perijá MetaltailsWhite-throated Tyrannulets2 Chestnut-breasted ChlorophoniasCommon ChlorospingusSlaty BrushfinchLacrimose Mountain-Tanager (ssp. pallididorsalis) and Blue-backed Conebill! What a flock.

Close by we saw Mountain Wren and heard the very distinct (and different to other populations) song of Rufous Antpitta. Rumor has it, that finally after almost 30 years of research, the split in the Rufous Antpitta complex is neigh! The saltuensis ssp. of the Perija Mountains will surely be elevated to species level. Further down activity dwindled but we saw a beautiful Golden-breasted Fruiteater 

Manaure

Unfortunately, it was time to wrap up things at Vereda San Antonio and head back to Manaure. Here we stayed at the charming Villa Adelaida for the night. Around their garden, we logged a scatter of common species like Red-crowned WoodpeckersBicolored WrensCrested OropendolasRufous-capped Warblers and Black-headed Tanagers.

But the best bird here was definitely the beautiful Golden-winged Sparrow. This was as well, our last excursion the highly memorable and interesting FamTrip with Sula. A difficult call, but for me, maybe the visit to the Perija Mountains ornithologically-wise constituted the highlight of this trip. Always save best for last, right?  

We fared well to our guide José Louis Ropero, and the next morning we hit the road back to Bogotá on a long and unexpectedly long journey. But that’s a different story just watch the video!

References
  • Serranía del Perijá: Geografía, capital humano, economía y medio ambiente. Author María Aguilera Díaz. Banco de la República (read here)
  • BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Cerro Pintado (Serranía de Perijá). Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/08/2020.
About the authors

Jérôme Fischer

Professional bird guide, swiss native, with more than 32 years of experience guiding hardcore birders and birdwatching tours. Jérôme has been focused on bird identification. He also traveled to many countries,  starting in Switzerland. Then he traveled exploring South America, the most biodiverse continent in the world, becoming specialized in Neotropical birds.

Sara Colmenares

The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism–environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.